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Robot-deployed balloons are taking over for humans at remote weather stations

April 26, 2018

The National Weather Service (NWS) is using automated launchers instead of human employees to deploy weather balloons in Alaska.

What they do: At the push of a button, the balloons can be automatically filled, checked, and deployed by NWS office employees. Once aloft, they send back information needed for worldwide weather forecasts.

By the numbers: Two Alaskan weather stations have gotten robotic launchers so far. Eleven more will be receiving them by 2020. Each costs $1.2 million but will end up saving $1 million a year.

Not good for workers: Employee hours at remote weather offices have already been slashed because of budget cuts. And with the arrival of auto-launchers, what were three-person teams at each station will be reduced to just one, whose job it will be to hold down the fort and reload the machine. Everyone else will be relocated and retrained. As Kimberly Vaughan, a union steward in Juneau, Alaska, told Science, “The autolauncher is just another nail in [remote weather stations’] coffin.”

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